May 4, 2006
March of Living Dead
When I was interviewed about the March of the Living by Jane Ulman, I was assured that the resulting article would be both fair and balanced. Your cover story proved to be neither, giving an inaccurate and damaging picture of the March of the Living experiences offered for Los Angeles teens ("March of the Living Dead," April 21).
Ulman's article presents a program that "builds identity based on death and destruction." The March of the Living is portrayed as totally ignoring Poland's current Jewish population and relating only to "Poland's deepest, murderous shame."
The L.A.-based delegation that is run by the Bureau of Jewish Education is a radically different program from the one detailed in The Jewish Journal. In fact, visits to the Lauder-Morasha School in Warsaw have been going on for many years as have meetings with Polish educators and Polish students.
Ulman's article somehow neglected to note the presence of Jewish groups from more than 40 countries around the world and its impact on participants. Our teens connect with the rich life and culture of Polish Jewry before World War II and reflect on (and, yes, memorialize) the Holocaust together with Jewish youth from such places as Australia, Chile, and Sweden, leaving them with a clear sense of Jewish peoplehood -- not Jewish victimization. Their experience is an uplifting, life-affirming one.
Jane Ulman's comment that March of the Living focuses too much on the past without acknowledging the Jewish community in Poland today is important. However, it is critical to accept that there was a loss. The March of the Living commemorates life. It celebrates our continued existence today and the world that was destroyed
I grew up as a child of survivors from the Holocaust and I always knew that in Poland was where my grandparents, aunts and uncles were slaughtered.
Do I object to my own grandchildren going to Poland and joining the March? No, I don't. In fact, my oldest granddaughter, who will turn 18 this summer, will go with her fellow classmates from Shalhevet in three weeks for a three week trip that will culminate in Israel.
Kudos to Poland for all the good they did to develop, foster and allow Jewish life to thrive. When push came to shove, though, too many Polish people helped the Nazis against the Jews. Too many Polish people turned in Jews for a sack of sugar. Some Polish people killed Jews after the war also.
Yes there were Polish non-Jews that saved Jews. My own parents were saved by Polish farmers. The problem was, there were not enough of these Righteous Gentiles to make enough of a dent. Of 3.5 million Jewish people in Poland, only 50,000 survived.
Having lived in Poland as a Student Scholar at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in 2003, I believe the carved wooden Jews in Rachel Kadish's article and Jane Ulman's frightened/depressed Jewish visitors to Poland represent two sides of the same coin: As long as American Ashkenazi Jews see the country as a cemetery and don't interact with non-Jewish Poles, then the wooden figurines will be the only images of Jews for those Poles to reference. When I jammed with some of the Polish klezmer musicians who make their living playing in Krakow, we broke through the "Plexiglass wall" by interacting as humans and sharing our love of music that we all -- Jews or not -- claimed as "our own."
In identifying with Israel's culture and fate while relegating Eastern Europe to nostalgia, we deny both ourselves and the Poles who live in our empty buildings a richer understanding of the people who wore those glasses and shoes displayed at Auschwitz.
We must confront our fear of looking beyond the Shoah and into their culture - Yiddish- and Polish-language scholarship, literature, theater, an array of social and political movements - and educate ourselves about 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland.
Two years ago my husband and I went to Poland on a self arranged trip to see where my father and my husband's mother were born. We had positive experiences with Polish people, who, unsolicited, came to our assistance. Had we known of the growing Jewish population from other areas of Eastern Europe, we would have made time to visit with them.
This is not to whitewash the past, but to say that there is more to Poland than the past.
Although I agree with some of the sentiments expressed that visitors to the country should not restrict their time to visiting concentration camps and prisons, I would point out that access to Jews who could share their contemporary experiences with foreigners is no easy matter.
If the Jews of Poland wish to send a different message from the one conveyed by concentration camps (Auschwitz is Poland's biggest tourist attraction) then they will have to assert themselves. We don't know where to find them but we'd be eager to hear what they have to say!
Marcia and Jack Heller
In "View on Eisen From L.A.: Thumbs Up" (April 28) Isaac Jeret is currently the rabbi of Ner Tamid of the South Bay. He is no longer affiliated with the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, where he formerly served as president. The Journal regrets the error. The writer stands by the accuracy of the quotation attributed to Rabbi Jeret.
Due to an editing error, "The Road to Mississippi" on this week's Tribe Page, which went to press early, should have clarified that the students started with social action projects in Natchez and then went to Waveland to help with clean-up and reconstruction.
Media use of "Polish death camp," "Nazi Poland" and "in Poland" can mislead, especially when the adjective, "German" is nowhere in sight. ("Auschwitz Might Get Name Change" April 28) Today many are young, and/or from South America or Asia and are not knowledgeable about European history. Of course, such terms are insulting to Poles, especially those who lost relatives in those camps. Ironically, last week's edition of The Jewish Journal used "Polish camp" in the book review section, something a UNESCO name change will not prevent ("Some 'New' Shoah Books Not So New," April 21). The keys are precision and sensitivity.
Roman J. Zawadzki
Bigamist vs. Agunah
In your article "The Bigamist vs. the Agunah," the question is asked: "Is Luna Batzri a victim of religious law..." In fact she is a victim of a perversion of halachah. Although there are hundreds of sources that prohibit the insurance of a Heter Nisuin (permission to remarry) without the depositing of an unconditional get that the woman may receive without any conditions or stipulations.
So there is no doubt that the halachah protects women from this type of treatment, it is only misogynistic rabbis that allow such behavior.
Rabbi Abraham Hershkowitz
Returning to the Scene
In your recent cover stories "March of the Living Dead" there was a very moving description of today's Jews of Warsaw.
In preparing background information for the "Ringelblum Secret Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto," a current exhibit at the University of Judaism, I was struck by the surprising and profound soul searching similarities between the siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and of the Warsaw uprising of 1943. These cannot be just coincidences!
Jerusalem and Warsaw were attacked by the mightiest armies of the time, the Romans and the Germans.
Jerusalem and Warsaw defenders fought behind walls, isolated from the outside worlds.
Jerusalem and Warsaw Jewish defenders were nor trained soldiers but common citizens of the land fighting for their life and freedom.
Jerusalem and Warsaw were attacked with the most advanced weapons of the time, Roman catapults and trebuchets, German flame throwers, poison gas, etc.
Jerusalem and Warsaw defenders fought to the end, dying on their feet, but not kneeling before victors.
Jerusalem prisoners were delivered to Roman slave traders, Warsaw prisoners to concentration, labor and extermination camps.
Jerusalem and Warsaw defenders were split into groups: Saducees, Pharsees, Sicarii and Zealots in Jerusalem; Orthodox, Zionists and Bundists in Warsaw.
Jerusalem and Warsaw had witnesses whose writing miraculously survived till today; Josephus Flavius in antiquity, Ringelblum and Czerniakow in the 20th century.
Romans forbade the use of the name Jerusalem, the Germans forbade the use of the term Warsaw Ghetto.
Destruction of Jerusalem was celebrated by Romans striking coins marked "Iudea Capta" and "Iudea Devicta." Germans issued to soldiers a medal proclaiming the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Romans brought oxen that plowed deep furrows in the soil of Jerusalem and soldiers brought bags of salt that were plowed deep into the soil so that nothing would ever grow there.
Germans, following the destruction of the ghetto by fire and explosives, brought in forced labor units that dismantled the remaining ruins brick by brick.
Wise men who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and Warsaw were convinced that Jews will never return to their city.
But today we are blessed to witness Jews in Jerusalem and now returning to Warsaw, building their new and vigorous communities.
We must support them both! We must deny victory to those who killed our ancestors in Jerusalem, and those who murdered our brothers and sisters in Warsaw.
I take strong offence to the incorrect and misleading use of terms in this article. "Escape from a Polish camp" should read "escape from the Nazi camp" ("Some 'New' Shoah Books Not So New," April 21).
Your incorrect and slanderous use of the expression "Polish camp" to describe a Nazi concentration camp located in Nazi-occupied Poland perpetuates the appearance that these camps were built and run by Polish people, rather than by Nazis.
Both the American Jewish Congress, and the Canadian Jewish Congress have repeatedly stressed that articles about the Holocaust should in no way mislead the reader into thinking that the camps were located in a Nazi-free Poland or that they were run by Polish people, yet your article does just that.
It is just such misuse of terms that leads to continued misunderstanding and mistrust, and perpetuates incorrect and unjust stereotypes.
After reading the interview of Bernard Henri-Levy, I wondered whether his thinking and writing are really as philosophically shallow as they are portrayed in the article ("Touring With Lévy a Dizzying Experience," April 28).
This shallowness seemed to pervade his comments. Examples are his assertions about Judaism, such as "Jewishness is an experience of the non-evidence of God"; and,"If you read the prophets, [their] main experience is not the warm presence of God, but the absence of it".
His comments about anti-Semitism are similarly frivolous: he asserts that the current anti-Semitism of Europeans stems from their "being fed up with guiltiness" over the Holocaust, a highly questionable view of its causation. Furthermore, he purports to distinguish the "old" anti-Semitisms, rooted in traditional religious or racial hostility, from some "new" anti-Semitism presenting as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist views. Such a distinction disregards the high degree of overlap among these views.
His ideas really cannot be regarded as reliable or even useful. Indeed, ordinary Jewish people who believe in them will encounter serious social and ideological difficulties.
The article mentions that Levy did not set foot into a synagogue until he was in his late 20s. It also does not mention whether he has children. It would be important to know whether he himself has children, and if so, what religion this reputedly-brilliant philosopher would raise them in. Perhaps he would try to teach them the Woody Allen version of Judaism that he seems to believe in.
When Do We Eat?
"When Do We Eat?" is the most important piece of contemporary Jewish artwork I have ever had the pleasure to experience. OK, perhaps that's an exaggeration, but no more so than the tragic disdain for the film expressed by Ann Goldfarb ("When Do We Eat", April 21), and no more so than the ridiculously over-the-top personalities of the film's Stuckman family. More than any other piece of popular Jewish art, "When Do We Eat?" serves as a spiritual mirror. Those who can see beyond the material veils (those who "get it") will delight in a high-minded trip out of Egypt. Those who don't... Well, I guess they'll have trouble coming up with enough negative words to describe their Stuckman experience. See this film!
I always enjoy reading the ad series "Jewry's Role in Human Affairs". The brief biography of the chemist Fritz Haber rightly mentioned his Nobel Prize-winning contribution in synthesizing ammonia in the lab, a process that is still vital to human affairs. What it did not mention was that to get ahead in the anti-Semitic climate at German universities, Haber had himself baptized as a Protestant, much to the chagrin of his friend, Albert Einstein. Ever the loyal German, he essentially invented poison gas warfare in World War I and was a hero of their war effort. When the Nazis dismissed him because of his "Jewish blood", he was devastated, claiming that he was no longer a Jew but a "true German". Ironically, an insecticide that he and his research team invented late in World War I to protect the food supply from moths had a much more sinister use after Haber's death. That gas was Zyklon B.
While reading Amy Klein's column regarding the selection of Professor Arnold Eisen as JTS's new chancellor ("View of Eisen From L.A.: Thumbs Up," April 28), I was surprised that my name was misspelled and that the article misstated my title and employer.
I also was disappointed at the way comments from our conversation were used. In the article, she quotes me on the issue of gay and lesbian ordination in the Conservative movement. The quotation is accurate per se, but the context within our conversation was not. In fact, my actual preference, as I told her repeatedly, was to make no comment on this issue at all. I did not, as the article states, focus immediately on Eisen's position on gay ordination. After being pressed repeatedly by Amy Klein on this topic, I stated my reason for not responding in the media, namely, that this issue, whatever its resolution, will divide Jews within the movement. I added that public comments from rabbis in the media while official deliberations continue may not help to heal our movement.
The social psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote that the only constant is change. Thus, the critical question is not whether we change, but how we might do so in a manner that is ultimately most inclusive, not only of those of diverse sexual orientations, but also of those with differing views, and those who represent different generations, regions, and nationalities within our movement. I am even more convinced now that the media is an unhealthy forum for any part of a process that aims to increase sanctity, inclusiveness, and dignity.
Rabbi Isaac Jeret
The Journal regrets the errors regarding the spelling of Rabbi Jeret's name and his professional affiliation ("View on Eisen From L.A.: Thumbs Up" -- April 28) Rabbi Jeret is currently the rabbi of Ner Tamid of the South Bay and no longer affiliated with the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, where he formerly served as president.